John McAfee: As the dark Web bubbles up to the mainstream, hacking just got easier

Backlit Keyboard
John McAfee is one of the most influential commentators on cybersecurity anywhere in the world. His new venture — Future Tense Central — focuses on security and personal privacy-related products. McAfee provides regular insight on global hacking scandals and internet surveillance, and has become a hugely controversial figure following his time in Belize, where he claims to have exposed corruption at the highest level before fleeing the country amid accusations of murder (the Belize government is currently not pursuing any accusations against him).

Co-author Rob Loggia is a white hat hacker and has worked with McAfee doing research and data collection for as far back as McAfee can remember.

The percentage of the population that has some form of tech savvy is higher than it has ever been. Many 21st century grandmothers know how to tweet using their iPhones and they no longer makes a funny face when told to “Google” something. Progress. And our level of dependence on computer systems in business and industry is complete. Computers are everywhere, and they now power the infrastructure and processes that make everything go. And the more we come to depend on these systems, the higher the stakes when someone tries to harm us by hacking them.

Behind the Internet of networked computers that everyone sees and uses on a daily basis lies another, deeper realm that can be collectively termed the Internet Underground. This underground consists of the deep web and the dark web. The deep web is the collection of information that is available on networked computers, but is not indexed by search engines and other typical data-retrieval tools. The dark web consists of overlay networks that use the same infrastructure as the public web, but require special tools and knowledge to access. Both lay beyond the casual reach of the typical Internet user.

Hacker playground

The Internet Underground represents a playground for hackers. Here can be found troves of information, never intended to be publicly shared,  that can be used to create havoc in the physical world. It also contains a wealth of information that can be used to gain even more sensitive data from private networks and computers – information that fuels the attack vector for most successful hacking attempts.

John McAfee
John McAfee

A look at the world’s worst hacks reveals a common pattern: Most were not accomplished by using sophisticated hacking tools or brute force attacks on security mechanisms. Consider one of the worst of these – the 2012 attack on Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil companies. Within hours, nearly 35,000 distinct computer systems had their functionality crippled or destroyed, causing a massive disruption to the world’s oil supply chain. It was made possible by an employee that was fooled into clicking a bogus link sent in an email. This is social engineering.

In fact 90 percent of hacking is social engineering. We – the user – are the weakest link in the chain of computing trust, imperfect by nature. And all of the security software and hardware in the world will not keep a door shut if an authorized user can be convinced to open it.

Good news

The good news is that there are patterns that we can look at and, in some cases, use to predict where the next attack may fall. Experienced hackers don’t concern themselves much with your firewalls, anti-spyware software, anti-virus software, encryption technology, etc. They want to identify human weakness. If they’re targeting a company, they might examine whether management personnel are frequently shuffled; whether employees are dissatisfied; whether nepotism is tolerated; whether IT managers have stagnated in their training and self improvement. They want to know what level of transparency exists within the corporation and how bloated the chain of command is. In short – they want to know how healthy and nimble the organization is.

Information wants to be free; like water it will flow freely once released from its container.

While anyone is susceptible to an attack at any time, hackers, like anyone else, will tend to go after the low-hanging fruit. Why go after a tightly-knit organization of competent, satisfied professionals supported by a stable IT staff unless there is a tremendous and unique payoff promised? There would be greater risk involved, and the chances of success would be low. Instead they will target an organization with identified human and structural problems.

To make this identification, hackers have traditionally turned to the Internet Underground. But recently it has started to become even easier. The Internet Underground is beginning to spill over into the mainstream web. Shocking types of information that used to be available only for a price on the dark web can now be found using simple Web searches or mobile apps. And found by anyone. While some of this information may seem innocuous to the untrained eye, the fact is that much of it is manna falling from hacker heaven.

Time to reflect

What this means is that protecting systems and networks against successful attack just got harder, and will require us to take a good look at ourselves and our organizations. IT professionals are accustomed to securing hardware and software. But how well do you know the human side of your technology? Is there information about your organization or your personal life out there, right now, migrating out of the Internet Underground to appear in simple web searches? Does this information make you, your family, or your organization an attractive target?

Answering these questions honestly and taking the time to find out for ourselves what information is already available about us needs to become required best practices for security. We are accustomed to securing systems and networks against sophisticated teams of hackers. But information wants to be free; like water it will flow freely once released from its container. Are you prepared for a world where grandma or anyone else can quickly obtain, on the wide open Web, all of the necessary information for a social-engineering hack? Are you prepared?

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Wearable chargers and A.I.-enhanced keyboards

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Walmart slashes $70 off the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 for summer clearance sale

Need a laptop that you’ll just use primarily for web browsing? Buy a Chromebook. Chromebooks are cheaper alternatives to normal laptops, like the Acer Chromebook Spin 11. It's available on Walmart for only $229, which is $70 less than its…
Small Business

Norton vs McAfee: Which Antivirus software is best for your small business?

Effective antivirus software is essential within a small business environment. With Norton and McAfee the biggest names in the business, we take a look at what's best for your company.
Home Theater

Why are current smart TVs still dumb enough to be hacked?

Our smart TVs can stream on-demand music and movies, and even control our smart home devices. But these features come at a cost and many of us don't even know there's a risk. Can our smart TVs be hacked and what can we do about it?

Cadence of Hyrule is the first truly amazing Zelda spinoff

Cadence of Hyrule is the first non-mainline Zelda game to capture the magic of the series. Blending catchy rhythm mechanics with top-down Zelda exploration, Brace Yourself Games has created one of the best games of 2019.
Movies & TV

Marvel’s Netflix universe is dead, but its legacy lives on

The end of Marvel's superhero universe on Netflix is a big deal for the streaming service, but this grand experiment had far-reaching effects that changed the streaming landscape for years to come.

No, Apple isn’t moving toward a Mac App Store-only future. At least, not yet

Apple’s Mac App Store makes it a ton of money, and now rumors are swirling the company wants to turn it into a monopoly. Here’s why that’s a load of bologna.

Epic Games really needs to properly address Fortnite crunch

Epic Games is closed for two weeks, but Fortnite updates are still arriving as usual. As the studio behind the most popular game on the planet, Epic needs to take a stand against crunch and promote healthy working conditions.

Nvidia's new Super graphics cards may have beaten AMD to the punch

New Nvidia Super graphics cards don't shake up the RTX formula much, but they do deliver the kind of performance that could give AMD's upcoming RX 5700 graphics cards serious cause for concern.
Home Theater

Hulu’s new Seinfeld shuffle could (and should) be the future of streaming

Hulu's new idea to randomize Seinfeld is great, but it doesn't go far enough. If streamers really want to get our attention, offering new kinds of randomization like a playlist shuffle key could be the future.
Movies & TV

What Spider-Man: Far From Home reveals about Phase 4 of the MCU

Spider-Man: Far From Home brought Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a close while offering a few clues about what to expect from the MCU in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame.
Home Theater

Netflix paid $100M to keep Friends, but viewers may pay the highest price

Netflix reportedly paid $100 million to keep '90s sitcom Friends on its service for another year, but the cost consumers might have to pay for access to their favorite shows and movies down the road could be much, much higher.

Facebook’s Libra could be dead on arrival, if India stands by its proposed ban

The government of India has announced that it is considering a ban on Facebook's new cryptocurrency, Libra. Without this key market, the success of the burgeoning cryptocurrency is in serious doubt.
Home Theater

How Amazon and Google’s streaming feud helped make Roku the streaming king

Amazon and Google are finally playing nice when it comes to streaming, with YouTube now available on Fire TV devices, and Amazon Prime Video available on Chromecast. Here's how remaining agnostic helped Roku leap ahead of the pack.